When Patriot completes doggie college, he’ll be able to turn off/on light switches, retrieve items from the frig, and deliver dropped keys. The 11-month-old retriever is part of Canine Companions (CC), which provides service animals free of charge to people with disabilities. His trainer, Linda Mucha, has volunteered for 20 years in the organization.
“Our clients range from someone in a wheelchair to children with autism or military veterans with Post-traumatic stress disorder,” Linda said. “Canine Companions does many wonderful things.”
Her role in the program is to take an 8-week-old puppy provided from a special breeder in California and raise the dog in her home until it’s 18 to 22 months old. She covers expenses for Patriot’s special diet and normal veterinary care. Her goal is to give him as many socialization opportunities as possible to help someone in daily activities. “I teach the puppy good manners and how to behave in public.”
Patriot’s most recent outing was to the hair salon where he sprawled on the floor patiently waiting on Linda. By the time he completes his program, he will know 35 to 40 commands. These include “visit,” which means he should put his head on her lap. “This prepares him to deliver items a client might need, not to mention getting loving.”
Linda reports to CC’s Southeast training facility in Orlando, Florida. The 8-acre campus opened in 2000 and serves eight states. Once a puppy finishes home training, it goes to the center for several more months with a professional trainer.
“There are more than 400 people waiting to be matched with their service dog. We don’t charge anything, but we do screen applicants carefully to match needs,” Linda said. “A doctor must document medical conditions, and potential clients receive a couple weeks of orientation with their prospective service dog.”
During her decades of involvement, she has fostered and/or trained more than 200 dogs. “It’s like having a child,” she said. “Each is different, but you raise them to go to college and have a good job. These service animals have a purpose to help someone have a better life.”
Her generosity impacts many families each day as they are greeted with warm muzzles and wagging tails that enable independence. Thanks, Linda and Canine Companions, for working quietly behind the scenes to meet needs. They remind us ministry comes in many forms.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter: 8-10 NIV).
If you would like to know more about CC, please go to the website here. The organization also sponsors a prison puppy raising program with inmates. (CC doesn’t provide seeing eyes dogs due to different training requirements.)